I wasn’t sure if a funny end-of-the-world was quite the thing we needed right now, but I was wrong. Partly because Love and Monsters isn’t actually very funny. Not because it fails as a comedy, though it’s billed as one; more like it’s simply not really trying to be a comedy. I laughed out loud once; I chuckled wryly a few times. Mostly there’s a lot of melancholy and a dash of unexpected optimism to be had in this postapocalyptic afterscape. And that is, as we’re saying now, a mood.
Also a mood: How bored and lonely 20something Joel (Dylan O’Brien: Bumblebee, Maze Runner: The Death Cure) is living underground — self-isolating and working from home, you might say — for the past six years, since giant insects and other mutated creatures have taken over the surface. He doesn’t even get to go outside, like the rest of his, er, support bubble, because he’s totally useless with weapons and freezes up when confronted by enormous angry things that can bite your head off.
Except now, he’s reconnected — over ham radio — with his girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick: Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), from whom he got separated when everything went to shit. Turns out she’s only 80 miles away… across giant-angry-mutated-insect-infested lands. So Joel is going to take his life in his hands and attempt a journey to join her.
Every time I was ready to roll my eyes at Love and Monsters, this pleasantly silly-sad movie snapped back at me by smashing clichés, finding fresh angles on familiar stories, and generally refusing to give in to narrative laziness, as way too many genre flicks do. Terrific supporting characters — notably Clyde (Michael Rooker: Brightburn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and little Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt: Scoob!, Avengers: Infinity War), snappy snarksters who have been surviving perfectly well outdoors; there’s a great dog, too — nicely complement O’Brien’s Joel, is who much more charming than he might have been. A certain self-deprecation adds a lot to his appeal, and he’s never the kind of annoyingly overconfident loser who often takes center stage in movies like this.
Perhaps most appealingly, screenwriters Brian Duffield (Jane Got a Gun, Insurgent) and Matthew Robinson (Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Monster Trucks) find some love for their monsters, and, with his second feature, director Michael Matthews finds some beauty in them, both as characters and as spectacle.(I have not seen Matthews’s first film, South African western Five Fingers for Marseilles, but I might have to now.) Theirs is an apocalypse that isn’t exactly the end of the world, merely the start of a new one… and one that isn’t all bad. That’s not an unwelcome message in 2020.